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What is this USWNT Player’s Deal: Alex Morgan

12:20 PM EDT on July 7, 2023

A statue of Alex Morgan of the United States dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
Photo by Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

Welcome to What Is This USWNT Player's Deal, a recurring series in which Defector selects a name from the American players most likely to go to the Women's World Cup this summer and answers the question: What is this USWNT player’s deal?

Alex Morgan has always been an immensely popular USWNT figure. She exploded onto the national scene in 2010 and simply hasn’t let up, aside from a couple minor injuries and a pregnancy. She’s famously a talented striker with a knack for finishing, but there’s an ineffable quality about Morgan that has made her a household name, a true sports superstar. Despite what her cultural omnipresence may suggest, however, she is more than her brand deals and charisma. Somehow, her off-field leadership is sorely overlooked in her general public image.

Morgan has made it a point to use her influence to give wind to the sails of various genuine improvements for players and their labor. While at the Portland Thorns, she was a personal confidante of then-teammate Mana Shim when Shim suffered from coach Paul Riley’s abuse. Morgan then took the lead on finding out how Shim could report Riley to the Thorns, when there was no preexisting system in place to do so. Eventually, Morgan worked with lawyers to draft anti-harassment and player safety policies, because there was no movement from the league toward realizing anything of the sort. Those efforts resulted in the NWSL Anti-Harassment Policy for a Safe Work Environment, which the league implemented in 2021. When Meg Linehan broke the Riley story at the Athletic later that year, Morgan publicized evidence that NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird had known about the abuse and didn’t act on it. In short, Morgan had to “force [league leadership’s] hand in changing the league,” as she later reflected. Morgan was also on the front lines of the momentous 2022 CBA agreement between the USWNT Players’ Association and U.S. Soccer. 

At this point, Alex Morgan is simply legendary. You can argue about whether she deserves her colossal status more or less than other longtime players, but her commitment to leveraging that influence for good is undeniable. Granted, behind-the-scenes justice work doesn't win World Cups. So what’s Morgan’s deal on the pitch? Is she as good as her reputation suggests?

Who Does She Play For?

After many years with the Orlando Pride and a couple of stints overseas with Lyon and Tottenham, Morgan landed at her hometown team, the San Diego Wave, for their inaugural season in 2022. Since being with the Wave, she’s been more productive than ever, scoring 20 goals in 28 appearances. Last year she won the NWSL Golden Boot and captained her team to the first ever NWSL playoff spot by any expansion side, and this year the Wave has hovered in the top half of the table. Morgan is no doubt buoyed by the Wave’s outstanding defense—Naomi Girma and Kailen Sheridan have led the team to a strong showing so far—but her work ethic and years of experience have been vital to the team’s quick success. 

The Lindsey Horan Magnifique Test

The Lindsey Horan Magnifique Test refers to the following foolproof heuristic for determining whether or not a U.S. player is actually good or just good by our rosy American standards: Do fans tweet lovingly about them in their local language?

How Does She Play?

Morgan still has that same dangerous left foot and its deft finishing touch which have propelled her to success and fame. She’s also an adept dribbler with the physicality necessary to ward off oncoming defenders. When Morgan has the ball in the box, even in the tightest of spaces and sharpest of angles, there’s a non-zero chance she’ll do something that just doesn’t seem possible. Here's a positively silly finish from 2021:

Morgan’s impressive productivity can sometimes overshadow her effort off the ball. She’s a workhorse on the field, making creative runs that torture defenders on offense and popping up in the defensive half to help out her team on the other end. In a recent article in the Athletic, Rose Lavelle explained how that off-ball movement helped her score a goal in the 2019 World Cup final:

“Alex pulls in that defender so they don’t step to me. ... Obviously Alex Morgan in that spot on her left foot is so dangerous, they were concerned about defending that. Then I thought ‘oh, she’s not stepping. I guess I’m going to shoot?’ I was waiting for one of them to step.”

Just the threat of Morgan getting the ball near the goal was enough to leave Rose Lavelle, a famously very good soccer player, with an opening on goal in the most important game in the world.

The Parental Recognition Index

The Parental Recognition Index is a holistic, objective metric that analyzes a player’s full array of skills and talents, distilling it all into a single number that corresponds to their ultimate potential and the likelihood that they will become a big enough star at the World Cup that one of your parents will send you a text message about them.

Morgan is one of those iconic players who has transcended the sport—I’d argue that she and Megan Rapinoe are the only current U.S. players at that level. So there's a 90 percent chance your parents already know who she is, and will text you something a little *too* patriotic, like “alex morgan makes me proud to be an american!” If not that, they’ll most certainly comment on her being a mother: “alex morgan has a child??? i have never felt older!” 

Show To Me A Cool Highlight

In last year's NWSL quarterfinals, Morgan scored the go-ahead goal for the Wave deep into extra time. This is one of those impossible shots I was talking about earlier.

A few more, all from past World Cups. Get excited!!!

OK, I can't help myself. One more, against Brazil, no less.

How Does She Fit In With The U.S. Team?

Morgan is an excellent no. 9, and can slot into a 3-front with any other forward hopefuls. But she’s not invulnerable to Vlatko Andonovski’s best problem: his overflowing pool of outstanding forwards. In all honesty, forwards Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, and Lynn Williams are probably as good as or even better than Morgan at this stage in her career, all in their own ways. Morgan is 34 now, and there’s a cost to aging. There’s also a benefit: With age comes leadership and a certain mental fortitude. With Becky Sauerbrunn (tragically) unable to join the roster, Morgan will be the most-capped player on the team this summer. Her more than 200 appearances and three previous World Cups should not be taken for granted—this young U.S. team will certainly rely on her for leadership even if she doesn’t play every match.

How Close Is She To The Hypothetical Best XI?

So long as she stays healthy, Morgan still has what it takes to compete for a starting spot among the USWNT’s absurd abundance of forward options. Her experience and calm precision are nearly unmatched; there are few others I’d feel as confident about stepping up to take a penalty kick, for example. But with bourgeoning talent at home and abroad, this World Cup will be more of a challenge for her than any others. Expect to see Morgan playing, but probably not as often or for as long as she may want.

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